Rhinitis in Rabbits

Summary Information
Diseases / List of Bacterial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names Snuffles

See also:

Disease Agents

Additional factors include:

  • Sudden fluctuations in environmental temperature.
  • High ammonia levels (associated with poor sanitation and/or feeding of diets too high in protein).
  • Stress.
  • Low humidity - e.g. in centrally heated houses - with associated increased dust particles in the air.
  • Cigarette smoke or aerosols which may damage/irritate the respiratory mucosa. 


Infectious Agent(s)
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
Clinical signs
  • Repeated sneezing and snorting.
    • Exudate may come from the nares at this time.
  • Less commonly also coughing (rare in rabbits).
  • Nasal discharge, initially serous and later mucopurulent - thick and white, later yellow.
    • Crusts of discharge may be found on the skin around the nose.
  • Ocular discharge may be present.
  • Wiping of the nose with the forepaws.
  • Matting and discolouration of the fur on the forepaws.
    • Check the paws if no nasal discharge is visible, since it may have been wiped off. (B601.7.w7)
  • Noisy respiration - nasopharyngeal noise which may be described as "wheezing". 
  • Dacrocystitis. (J60.6.w1)
  • Sometimes conjunctivitis. (B602.17.w17)
  • Anorexia.
    • This may be associated with problems of breathing while eating, or possibly related to a decreased sense of smell.
  • Ungroomed coat due to problems breathing while grooming.
  • Clinical pathology: heterophilia may be noted with acute infection, or leucopaenia with chronic infection. (B601.7.w7)

(B600.13.w13, B601.7.w7, B602.17.w17, J60.6.w1, P3.2000b.w2)

Pathological findings
  • URT: 
    • Nasal cavity and sometimes paranasal sinuses filled with pus in advanced disease; this becomes inspissated. Mucous membranes ulcerated, infected turbinates atrophied and eroded (osteomyelitis).
    • In acute disease, mucosal oedema and inflammation. (B602.17.w17)


Further Information
Susceptibility / Transmission
  • Young, recently acquired rabbits may develop disease having been infected at their breeding establishment then subjected to the stresses of weaning, transport and change in husbandry routine. (B600,13.w13)
  • Increased susceptibility where a rabbit is kept in a shed or outhouse with several other rabbits. (B600,13.w13)
  • Clinical signs are suggestive, also consider the rabbit's history regarding susceptibility and transmission. (B600,13.w13)
  • Auscultation of the trachea - rales and rattles. (B602.17.w17)
  • A deep nasal swab should be taken and sent for bacteriological culture and sensitivity testing. Insertion of the swab will generally require sedation or anaesthesia. (B600,13.w13)
    • Swab both nares. (B601.7.w7, B602.17.w17, J60.6.w1)
    • Insert at least 1 cm into each nares, further if possible (1 - 4 cm). (B601.7.w7, B602.17.w17)
    • A small swab is required, such as a no. 4 calcium alginate swab. (B601.7.w7, B602.17.w17)
    • For Pasteurella multocida, immediately inoculate onto blood agar and incubate in aerobic or microaerophilic conditions for a minimum of 48 hours. (B601.7.w7)
  • Visual examination plus radiography to diagnose any underlying dental problems. (B600,13.w13)
  • Radiography can be used to assess nasal structures as well as the teeth. Look for any erosion of the ethmoturbinates, or opaque conchal sinuses indicating exudate. Note: a periapical abscess or foreign body may be the cause of bacterial infection and turbinate erosion; finding exudate and erosion does not rule out these diseases. (B600,13.w13)
    • Careful positioning is important. (B602.17.w17)
Differential Diagnoses
  • Antibiotic therapy based on culture and sensitivity testing if possible. (J60.6.w1)
  • For Pasteurella multocida, usually one of the following:
  • For Bordatella bronchiseptica infection, appropriate antibiotic therapy is needed. (B602.17.w17)
  • Note: consider the flora of the rabbit's gut when choosing an antibiotic. Dysbiosis is less likely to occur with Trimethoprim-Sulphonamides, fluroquinolones (e.g. Enrofloxacin), Chloramphenicol or tetracyclines. If penicillin is to be used, this side-effect is less likely if the drug is given parenterally rather than orally. (B602.17.w17) 
    • If the rabbit develops diarrhoea or anorexia during antibiotic treatment, stop treatment with that drug and try a different antibiotic. (B602.17.w17)
  • Adjunct therapy: See: Treatment and Care
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species
Disease Author Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referees Brigitte Reusch BVet Med (Hons) CertZooMed MRCVS (V.w127)

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